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The storm over that World Cup kiss and what it means for your business

The storm over that kiss at the end of the Women’s World Cup Final is just the latest in a year of high-profile crises.

The story has dominated headlines around the world –  sparking debate about whether it’s football’s “Me Too” moment or a storm in a teacup.

It’s the latest in a string of crises where businesses and institutions from NatWest to the BBC and the CBI have found themselves at the centre of a media storm, facing serious questions about their values and the behaviours of some staff members.

Superficially, the crises are very different, ranging from the appropriateness of discussing the bank accounts of a controversial figure like Nigel Farage, to investigating claims about a presenter accused of making payments to a crack addict more than forty years his junior.

But look a little deeper and there is a common theme. At the heart of each have been questions about whether the people involved understood that we live in a world of shifting and often divisive values.

Too many businesses have not thought through where what would happen to them if exposed to such values-driven crises. What would their response be to  key questions around behaviours in a world where your leaders and your corporate culture can rapidly come under fire if you are perceived to be out of step with one group’s strongly held views?

One common response from individuals at the heart of these crisis is to suggest that critics have got things way out of proportion. Rubiales says the kiss was consensual, even customary – oblivious to the risks of kissing a colleague on the lips following a decade of scandals involving the “Me Too” movement. Tony Danker of the CBI said following and interacting with staff on social media was part of his plan to build and boost culture, and whilst the lines between home and work became increasingly blurry during the Covid pandemic,  questions were asked about the appropriateness of a boss asking to see personal photos, which made some feel uncomfortable.

The BBC appeared not to have thought through how its complaints procedures operated, leaving a major accusation against one of its most high-profile stars languishing in a backwater department, rather than having an immediate red-flag raised at the top of the organisation. Similarly, it appeared to have no framework or set of values in place to handle a crisis involving one of its stars, creating the unfavourable impression that it was fearful of addressing issues with its senior people, which later went on to impact its reputation.

NatWest/Coutts appeared not to have taken to heart it is never appropriate to discuss a customer’s details with a journalist, or that writing in a discoverable document that the Nigel Farage was a “disingenuous grifter” was an accident waiting to happen.

Navigating these situations without having thought properly about values can result in a rolling media storm.

We increasingly live in a world where it is no longer good enough to say: We didn’t break any rules. Increasingly, significant groups are asking what a business’ values are, and if they have worked out how to protect them.

There are ways of preparing a business well before trouble arises. Is your complaints procedure up to scratch? Is your whistleblowing plan credible, or a fig-leaf that staff don’t take seriously? Have you thought through changing values and your businesses response to them?

Increasingly our clients are looking for help in how to navigate divisive issues, in a domestic or global context where we often see conflicting views on key social issues.

In a world where a crisis can rapidly erupt and cross borders in seconds on social media, having a framework in place on how you think about divisive issues and where you should have a voice and where you shouldn’t, is more critical than ever to avoid a serious misstep. Testing your existing complaints and whistleblowing procedures in this light is also vital.

The guiding light for this work must start with a company’s internal culture and values; are there areas that haven’t kept pace in a changing world; and how can you protect yourself in this age of volatility. FGS Global is set up to help.